The construction business is one of the largest industries in the world, with an annual market capitalization exceeding $10 trillion. Despite its tremendous potential, many firms are struggling due to a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth, and waste. New data showing that the industry generates immense waste, both in terms of human productivity and physical materials.
Today’s proponents of technology have pointed to a lack of automation and adoption of technology as the primary reasons for the industry’s poor performance. The construction process is one of the least digitized industries worldwide, and has resultantly failed to significantly increase productivity of human workers in decades. All while productivity in sectors like retail and agriculture has grown by 1500% or more since 1945.
It’s time to shake things up in the construction industry. We think that automation technology is the next big thing that will help construction firms thrive over the next 50 years.
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Drones Used to Conduct Jobsite Inspections & Monitor Inventory
While a reported 200,000 construction jobs were left unfilled across the United States last year. Many firms left with worker shortages continued to expend valuable human resources on time-consuming tasks. Most that could be easily managed with the help of drone technology.
Drones are excellent for conducting site inspections, especially on mega projects like skyscrapers or shopping malls. An individual or a team of inspectors would spend days walking through the structure to analyze safety precautions and progress. Drones allow a single pilot to do the work of many inspectors from a safe, even offsite location.
Drones can also be used for inventory management. Surveyors currently use GPS coordinates to cross-section piles of materials and determine their quantity. Whereas a surveyor drone equipped with a camera and lasers can achieve the same task in just minutes. The result is a significant saving in time and labor costs for the firm, a godsend for a construction company where skilled labor is already scarce.
Automated Construction of Prefabricated Homes – a Growing Sector
Clever housing development firms are pushing forward with the construction of prefabricated homes in special warehouses, where manufacturing know-how, including the use of assembly lines, is being used to enhance worker productivity and reduce costs. In Japan, 16% of homes are built using prefabrication techniques, while in Sweden, the number is a whopping 40%.
Assembly lines proved crucial to enhancing worker productivity in the automobile industry, and the factory environment promotes consistency and quality in production, leading to a better and more consistent final product for the end user.
In addition, prefabricated projects require less construction material and have less waste. It’s easier for the factory to use the exact amount of material needed and recycle material that it didn’t use rather than on a site. It provides one location to almost complete a project, only leaving the installation process. And even that is easier than building everything on site.
Factory production is one of the most promising ways of addressing worker shortages. A worker operating a machine that does the building is far more productive than a worker that does the building himself. Prefabricated parts are transported to the construction site and used to construct homes in record time, leveraging existing infrastructure for transportation and warehousing.
Robotics Applications Promise to Enhance Efficiency in Construction
When we think about construction automation, we should think about robotics applications and whether we can use robots to ease work that humans have traditionally done. Investors are putting millions of dollars into developing robotic automation to enhance construction productivity, and leading firms are creating new methods that will revolutionize how the biggest players in the business process materials in the coming decades.
A company called “Construction Automation” recently released a robotic product called “SAM 100.” The robot, whose name stands for “Semi-Automated Mason” is reportedly capable of laying over 2000 bricks per day, compared to a human that might lay just 400. SAM 100 is the first commercially available brick-laying robot and promises to accelerate jobs and enhance profits anywhere it’s used.
However, they’re no longer the only firm building automation equipment for the construction industry. Companies are building automation equipment for many specific industries within construction as well as for general construct. These specific companies are innovators in the world of construction technology and construction automation.
Stiles Machinery – This firm builds a product called a multi-function bridge that automates wood-framed panel production. The machine can be outfitted modularly with a variety of tools and performs multiple fastenings at once. It promises to eliminate costly pre-cutting, staging and repeated handling of sheathing materials.
Hundegger – Revolutionizing timber engineering, the futuristic machines of Hundegger Canada will allow construction firms to prefabricate and process timber according to exact specifications. This firm built the latest SPM2 Machine Series to process OSB, Plywood, Drywall, Cement, Fiber Board, and expand their offerings.
Trimble – Trimble’s innovation is making amateur excavator operators look like professionals, saving time, and reducing costs with their Earthworks Software. This program integrates with excavators and allows workers to “dig to design” and perform pipework accurately in 20% less time.
3D-Printing Concrete – This past year, the United States Marine Corps used 3D printers to print a pedestrian foot bridge. Additionally, the USMC built a 500 square-foot barracks in 40 hours, making it a possible investment. And the Tennessee based construction firm, Branch Technology, will build the world’s first free-form 3D-printed house this year. 3D-printing in construction is an automated technology that shows great promise for the future.
With little hope of reversing a long-standing labor shortage, automation technologies are the way forward for the construction industry when it comes to enhancing productivity and boosting profits. The adoption and integration of automation, and the widespread use of prefabrication may be the best opportunities for the construction business to thrive in the next decade.